Art (play)

'Art' is a French-language play by Yasmina Reza that premiered in 1994 at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The play subsequently ran in London in 1996 and on Broadway in 1998.

Written byYasmina Reza
Date premiered28 October 1994
Place premieredComédie des Champs-Élysées, Paris
Original languageFrench
SettingThe Paris apartments of Serge, Marc, and Yvan


The play premiered on 28 October 1994 at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

The English-language adaptation, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Matthew Warchus opened in London's West End on 15 October 1996 at the Wyndham's Theatre (before moving to the Whitehall Theatre in October 2001) starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott, produced by David Pugh and Sean Connery running for eight years until 3 January 2003, with Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss (aka The League of Gentlemen) in the final cast.[1] West End replacements included James Fleet, Stephen Tompkinson, Michael French, Richard Griffiths, Malcolm Storry, Tony Haygarth, Charles Lawson, Gary Kemp, James Gaddas, David Haig, Judd Hirsch, Richard Thomas, Joe Morton, Henry Goodman, Roger Allam, Stanley Townsend, Nicholas Woodeson, Art Malik, Frank Skinner, Tom Mannion, Danny Webb, Gary Olsen, Jack Dee, Mick Ford, Nigel Havers, Ron Cook, Anthony Valentine, Peter Egan, Patrick Duffy, Paul Freeman, David Dukes, Stacy Keach, George Wendt, Alistair McGowan, Sean Hughes, Colin Buchanan, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Barry Foster, Leigh Lawson, Simon Shepherd, Philip Franks, Stephen McGann, Jamie Theakston, Gareth Harris and Christopher Luscombe. During the production's West End run, the play toured the UK four times.

'Art' played on Broadway in New York at the Royale Theatre from February 12, 1998 to August 8, 1999, again produced by Pugh and Connery, plus Joan Cullman. The opening cast featured Alan Alda (Marc), Victor Garber (Serge), and Alfred Molina (Yvan), who was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance. 'Art' won the Tony for Best Play and went on to a 600-performance run. Replacement actors included Brian Cox, David Haig, Judd Hirsch, Henry Goodman, Joe Morton, George Wendt, Buck Henry, George Segal, and Wayne Knight.

From December 2016 to February 2017 the production, directed by Matthew Warchus was revived at The Old Vic in London to celebrate its 20th anniversary, starring Rufus Sewell, Tim Key and Paul Ritter[2] and began touring the UK from February 2018 starring Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson.[3][4]


The comedy, which raises questions about art and friendship, concerns three long-time friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan. Serge, indulging his penchant for modern art, buys a large, expensive, completely white painting. Marc is horrified, and their relationship suffers considerable strain as a result of their differing opinions about what constitutes "art". Yvan, caught in the middle of the conflict, tries to please and mollify both of them.

The play is not divided into acts and scenes in the traditional manner, but it does nevertheless fall into sections (numbered 1–17 by Pigeat).[5] Some of these are dialogues between two characters, several are monologues where one of the characters addresses the audience directly, and one is a conversation among all three. At the beginning and end of the play, and for most of the scenes set in Serge's flat, the large white painting is on prominent display.


Set in Paris, the story revolves around three friends—Serge, Marc and Yvan—who find their previously solid 15-year friendship on shaky ground when Serge buys an expensive painting. The canvas is white, with several fine white lines.

Marc, appalled to hear that Serge had bought the painting for two hundred thousand francs, scornfully describes it as "a piece of white shit". Serge argues that the painting, created by a reputable artist, is worth its hefty price, but Marc remains unconvinced of the painting's value.

Serge and Marc both confide in Yvan about their disagreement over the painting, but the mild-mannered Yvan remains neutral and attempts to smooth things over. With Serge, Yvan comments politely on the painting but admits that he does not grasp the essence of it. With Marc, Yvan laughs at the painting's price but suggests that the work is not quite meaningless. Yvan's vacillations only fuel the disagreement as his friends criticize his timid neutrality.

Several nights later, Serge, Marc, and Yvan gather for dinner. The get-together quickly spirals into a fight where the three friends use the painting as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. Marc claims that Yvan never expresses any substantial opinions, and he attacks Yvan for being an "arse-licker" both in this argument and in the ongoing conflict between his fiancée and his mother. Serge criticizes Marc's unwillingness to accept that his friends’ opinions differ from his own; he reveals that he despises Marc's girlfriend but had kept his disdain private because he accepts that Marc's taste differs from his.

At last, Marc admits that he truly resents not the painting itself but the uncharacteristic independence of thought that the purchase reveals in Serge. He recalls that Serge used to share Marc's views on arts and culture, and he feels abandoned now that Serge has developed his own, modern taste. Marc explains that friends must always influence each other, but Serge retorts that this view is possessive and controlling. Yvan, finally defending himself, bursts out crying and explains that their friendship is his only sanctuary in his burdensome life. He tearfully explains that he remains tolerant and agreeable because he values companionship over dominance.

After Yvan's outburst, the three friends calm down. The fight wordlessly settles as Serge allows Marc to deface the painting using a blue felt-tip pen. Marc draws a person skiing along one of the white lines on the painting. Serge and Marc agree to attempt to rebuild their friendship, and they begin by washing the pen marks off the painting. Marc asks Serge whether he had known that felt-tip pen ink is washable before allowing him to vandalize the painting; Serge replies that he had not.

Privately, Serge reveals that he had indeed known about the ink's washability beforehand, and feels troubled about his lie. Marc concludes the play by describing his own interpretation of the painting: it is of a man who moves across the canvas and disappears. Their friendship's future is left uncertain.

Awards and nominations

  • 1997 Oliver Award for Best Actor, Ken Stott
  • 1997 Oliver Award for Best Director (Warchus)
  • 1997 Oliver Award Best for Set Designer (Mark Thompson)
  • 1997 Oliver Award for Best Lighting Designer (Hugh Vanstone)
  • 1998 Tony Award Best Actor in Play (Molina)
  • 1998 Tony Award Best Direction of a Play (Warchus)
  • 1998 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play


  1. Andersson, Benny; Ulvaeus, Bjorn; and Craymer, Judy (2006), "Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You? - The Inside Story of Mamma Mia and the Songs of ABBA", Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, p. 151.
  2. Billington, Michael (2016-12-21). "Art review – Rufus Sewell shines in finely shaded character study". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  3. "How the Old Vic has reinvented itself post-Kevin Spacey | Features | The Stage". The Stage. 2017-05-04. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  4. "David Pugh on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  5. Pigeat, Aurélien (2005). Art (in French). Paris: Hatier. ISBN 2-218-75089-9.

Further reading

  • Reza, Yasmina (1994). "Art" (in French). Arles: Actes sud. ISBN 2-86943-410-3.
  • Reza, Yasmina (1996). 'Art'. Translated by Hampton, Christopher. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-19014-6.
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